ILZWA, IRAQ --
Lined up along the walls outside and throughout the hallways of an Iraqi school, Iraqi men, women and children waited for their turn to receive medical care from sailors, soldiers or the head surgeon of the 1st Iraqi Division.
During a Combined Medical Engagement Jan. 30, Hospital Corpsmen and doctors from 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1 teamed up with their counterparts from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team1 to provide free medical attention to the Iraqi community.
“Our goal today is to provide medical care to the Iraqis that otherwise is not available,” said Navy Commander Lee A. Pietrangelo, Battalion Surgeon for 2nd Bn, 24th Marines. “We want to bring to the Iraqi people the same thing we would want brought to our families, which is adequate healthcare.”
In addition to providing medical support, Col. Ibrahim K, Ilkhilidy, 1st Iraqi Division Surgeon, said he wants to show his fellow countrymen who they can trust and rely on for security.
“One way for us to do that is to help them, treat them and show our faces so that they know who are the good guys and who the bad guys are,” said Ilkhilidy, who graduated from Basra Medical School in 1990. “From 2005 to now, there have been much bigger turnouts because the people trust the security and feel it is safer to come to these free clinics.”
Security for the medical engagement was provided by Marines of 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines and members of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police.
“We’re here so that the Iraqis don’t have to worry about hostile activity and to de-escalate any situation, if necessary,” said Cpl. Robert J. Lewis, a squad leader with fourth platoon, Company F. “Right now they don’t have the resources to provide all aspects of security, so we are here to provide as much help as possible.”
Taking into consideration the very sensitive Iraqi culture, the sailors and soldiers separated the Iraqi males and females to be treated by medics of the same gender.
Female Corpsmen and soldiers were tasked with treating the females and children and said the women felt comfortable opening up to them.
“It helps a lot to have us (females) here . . . they feel that they can open up to us about personal issues,” said HM1 Jennifer L. Knuth, an Independent Duty Corpsman with Marine Wing Support Squadron 272. “It helps to show the Iraqis that we care enough about them and their culture to properly take care of them.”
After treating their patients, Knuth and the other medics passed out supplies and toys to the women and children. For Knuth, seeing their reactions was an inspiring event.
“The way the kids reacted to the medical supplies, candy and toys brought a smile to my face,” Knuth said. “The women seemed very happy and our (interpreters) said the women loved that we cared enough about them to bring hygiene gear, toys and gifts to them and their families.”
As the children ran out of the schoolyard with their families and friends and the medics packed their supplies, an elderly Iraqi man looked over his shoulder and, with just his eyes, seemed to thank the sailors, soldiers and Marines for helping him and his family.